Marise Payne calls in Myanmar ambassador after Australian adviser to Aung Sun Suu Kyi detained

Foreign affairs minister says Australian government ‘deeply concerned’ about reports Sean Turnell has been detained in Myanmar

The Australian government has called in Myanmar’s ambassador after Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, was detained after a military coup.

Turnell, who is also an economics professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, told Reuters he was being detained, but has been uncontactable since Saturday.

“I guess you will soon hear of it, but I am being detained,” he said. “Being charged with something, but not sure what. I am fine and strong, and not guilty of anything,” he said in a message, with a smile emoji.

Turnell also told the BBC his charge “could be anything at all”.

“Everyone’s been very polite and all that, but obviously I’m not free to move or anything like that,” he said.

On Saturday evening, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, said the government was “deeply concerned about reports of Australian and other foreign nationals being detained arbitrarily in Myanmar”.

Payne said the government was providing consular assistance to “a number of Australians in Myanmar”.

“In particular, we have serious concerns about an Australian who has been detained at a police station,” she said.

“We have called in the Myanmar ambassador and registered the Australian government’s deep concern about these events.”

Payne said Australia’s embassy in Yangon is continuing to check with Australians in Myanmar “to ascertain their safety, to the extent that communications allow”.

According to Turnell’s LinkedIn profile, he has been living and working in Naypyidaw – the city that replaced Yangon as Myanmar’s capital – since December 2017, where he has been “serving as special economic consultant to the state counsellor [Suu Kyi]”.

Thanks everyone for your concern yesterday. Safe for now but heartbroken for what all this means for the people of Myanmar. The bravest, kindest people I know. They deserve so much better.

— sean turnell (@SeanTurnell) February 1, 2021

A spokesman for Macquarie University told the Guardian that Turnell “is a longstanding and distinguished member of Macquarie University’s economics department”.

“We are aware of his arrest and fully support both his work in Myanmar and the efforts of the Australian government to secure his swift release,” he said.

On Monday, when Myanmar’s military took power from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party and declared a state of emergency, Turnell tweeted “gut wrenching and heartbreaking”.

“Internet comes and goes, but not the grief on the faces of my Myanmar friends ...Utter catastrophe for the economy of course, but that for later,” he said.

The following day, he tweeted a photo of himself with Suu Kyi and said he was “safe for now”.

“But heartbroken for what all this means for the people of Myanmar. The bravest, kindest people I know. They deserve so much better,” Turnell said.

The news of Turnell’s detention came as thousands of people took to the streets of Yangon on Saturday to denounce the coup and demand the release of Suu Kyi, in the first such demonstration since the generals seized power.

“Military dictator, fail, fail; democracy, win, win,” protesters chanted, calling for the military to free Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi and other leaders of the NLD who have been detained since the coup.


Elias Visontay

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Australia to train Myanmar military despite ethnic cleansing accusations
Defence department spend continues despite claims treatment of Rohingya bears ‘hallmarks of a genocide’

Elise Thomas

05, Mar, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
Myanmar: Australian adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, Sean Turnell, 'being detained'
Economist from Macquarie University tells Reuters news agency ‘I am fine and strong and not guilty of anything’

Guardian reporter in Yangon and agencies

06, Feb, 2021 @6:06 AM

Article image
Aung San Suu Kyi and Australian adviser handed three years’ jail after secret trial
Myanmar junta’s sentencing of ousted leader and economic adviser Sean Turnell described as ‘cruel injustice’

Rebecca Ratcliffe and agencies

29, Sep, 2022 @4:49 AM

Article image
'Not guilty of anything': the Australian adviser detained in Myanmar
Prof Sean Turnell is close to ousted democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and was taken by military in the days after the coup

Ben Doherty and a Guardian reporter in Yangon

09, Feb, 2021 @7:00 PM

Article image
Fears army will tighten grip in Myanmar after Aung San Suu Kyi detained
Civilian leader urges the public to protest against any return to a military dictatorship

Rebecca Ratcliffe and a Guardian correspondent in Yangon

01, Feb, 2021 @7:22 PM

Article image
Myanmar: thousands attend funeral of Aung San Suu Kyi adviser
Death of Muslim lawyer Ko Ni, shot in the head at Yangon airport, highlights persecution of Muslims in the country

Poppy McPherson in Yangon and Aung Naing Soe

30, Jan, 2017 @2:31 PM

Article image
Australia faces calls to cut military ties with Myanmar after coup
Australia is understood to fear that isolating country risks driving junta into China’s embrace

Daniel Hurst and Ben Doherty

02, Feb, 2021 @9:59 AM

Article image
Malcolm Turnbull encourages Aung San Suu Kyi to resettle Rohingya
Amnesty International accuses Australian PM of ‘softly softly’ approach to humanitarian crisis

Paul Karp

19, Mar, 2018 @8:48 AM

Article image
Myanmar election: Aung San Suu Kyi calls for reconciliation talks with military
Opposition leader wants meeting with president and commander-in-chief to discuss next steps as National League for Democracy takes 90% of declared seats

Oliver Holmes in Yangon

11, Nov, 2015 @9:14 AM

Article image
Marise Payne presses Saudi Arabia on disappearance of Australian citizen
Embassy in Canberra silent in response to requests to disclose whereabouts of Osama al-Hasani

Daniel Hurst Foreign affairs and defence correspondent

04, Jun, 2021 @3:01 AM